Dear Ed & Jessica:
Your 72-gallon community tank sounds like an excellent system. All of your corals and small reef fish are compatible with seahorses and you have created a little patch of paradise for your ponies. Very nice! (I especially like the addition of the sump.)
I’m sorry to hear that you lost your oldest seahorse. Yes, it’s possible that your middle seahorse may be experiencing something akin to depression following the loss of a tankmate. Many hobbyists report that seahorses exhibit emotions akin to sadness under such circumstances.
For example, a widowed seahorse certainly can be traumatized by the loss of its mate. Over the years, I have heard many anecdotal reports that indicate that the health of a pair-bonded seahorse often suffers when it loses its mate. Widowers are thus said to languish, experience loss of appetite, and lapse into a general state of decline. Many hobbyists equate this to a state of depression or melancholy. While it’s safe to say that widowed seahorses don’t die from a broken heart, there may well be a kernel of truth at the heart of such accounts. It’s very likely that a pair-bonded seahorse suddenly separated from its mate will experience altered hormonal secretion as a result. This can cause low levels of certain hormones that are known to have a profound influence on both mental state and physical well being in humans and animals alike, affecting everything from the immune response to sperm production and sex drive.
So it’s conceivable that your middle seahorse may be reacting to the loss of the oldest pony, and that it may be off its feed a bit as a result. If the percula clownfish have developed a taste for frozen Mysis — which they often do — and have taken to monopolizing the feeding station a bit at mealtime, that may also be a factor in the middle seahorses loss of appetite.
In that case, Ed and Jessica, you might try target feeding your seahorses as described below to see if that perks up your ‘tweeners appetite:
Feeding Seahorses In the Community Tank
When keeping seahorses in an appropriately elaborate environment, it is imperative that you feed them properly! Domesticated seahorses thrive on enriched frozen Mysis as their staple, everyday diet. But the worst thing you can do when feeding the seahorses in a intricate reef or live rock environment is to scatter a handful of frozen Mysis throughout the tank to be dispersed by the currents and hope that the hungry horses can track it all down. Inevitably some of the frozen food will be swept away and lodge in isolated nooks and crannies where the seahorses cannot get it (Giwojna, 2005). There it will begin to decompose and degrade the water quality, which is why ammonia spikes are common after a heavy feeding. Or it may be wafted out into the open again later on and eaten after it has begun to spoil. Either outcome can have dire consequences (Giwojna, 2005).
The best way to avoid such problems is to target feed your seahorses or set up a feeding station for them. <And in your case, and Jessica, I would suggest target feeding since your clownfish are now "on" to the feeding station and taking advantage of the easy pickings there.>
Personally, I prefer to target feed my seahorses instead. The individual personalities of seahorses naturally extend to their feeding habits. Some are aggressive feeders that will boldly snatch food from your fingers, while some are shy and secretive, feeding only when they think they’re not being observed. Some like to slurp up Mysis while it’s swirling through the water column, and some will only take Mysis off the bottom of the tank. Some are voracious pigs that greedily scarf up everything in sight, and some are slow, deliberate feeders that painstakingly examine every morsel of Mysis before they accept or reject it. Some eat like horses and some eat like birds. So how does the seahorse keeper make sure all his charges are getting enough to eat at mealtime? How does the hobbyist keep the aggressive eaters from gobbling up all the mouth-watering Mysis before the slower feeders get their fair share? And how can you keep active fishes and inverts with seahorses without the faster fishes gobbling up all the goodies before the slowpoke seahorses can grab a mouthful (Giwojna, unpublished)?
Target feeding is the answer. Target feeding just means offering a single piece of Mysis to one particular seahorse, and then watching to see whether or not the ‘horse you targeted actually eats the shrimp. Feeding each of your seahorses in turn that way makes it easy to keep track of exactly how much each of your specimens is eating (Giwojna, unpublished).
There are many different ways to target feed seahorses. Most methods involve using a long utensil of some sort to wave the Mysis temptingly in front of the chosen seahorse; once you’re sure this has attracted his interest, the Mysis is released so it drifts down enticingly right before the seahorse’s snout. Most of the time, the seahorse will snatch it up as it drifts by or snap it up as soon as it hits the bottom (Giwojna, unpublished).
A great number of utensils work well for target feeding. I’ve seen hobbyists use everything from chopsticks to extra long tweezers and hemostats or forceps to homemade pipettes fashioned from a length of rigid plastic tubing. As for myself, I prefer handfeeding when I target feed a particular seahorse (Giwojna, unpublished).
But no doubt the all-time favorite implement for target feeding seahorses is the old-fashioned turkey baster. The old-fashioned ones with the glass barrels work best because the seahorses can see the Mysis inside the baster all the way as it moves down the barrel and out the tip. By exerting just the right amount of pressure on the bulb, great precision is possible when target feeding with a turkey baster. By squeezing and releasing the bulb ever so slightly, a skillful target feeder can keep a piece of Mysis dancing at the very tip of the baster indefinitely, and hold the tempting morsel right in front of the seahorse’s mouth as long as necessary. Or if the seahorse rejects the Mysis the first time it drifts by, a baster makes it easy to deftly suck up the shrimp from the bottom so it can be offered to the target again. In the same way, the baster makes it a simple matter to clean any remaining leftovers after a feeding session (Giwojna, unpublished). (You’ll quickly discover the feeding tube is also indispensable for tapping away pesky fish and invertebrates that threaten to steal the tempting tidbit before an indecisive seahorse can snatch it up.)
In short, target feeding allows the hobbyist to assure that each of his seahorses gets enough to eat without overfeeding or underfeeding the tank. And it makes it possible to keep seahorses in a community tank with more active fishes that would ordinarily out-compete them for food, since the aquarist can personally deliver each mouthful to the seahorses while keeping more aggressive specimens at bay (Giwojna, unpublished).
The key to keeping active specimens like firefish and occelaris clownfish or cleaner shrimp successfully with seahorses is to feed the other fish and inverts with standard, off-the-shelf aquarium foods first, and once they’ve had their fill, then target feed the seahorses (Giwojna, unpublished).
I suspect that your middle seahorse will respond positively to target feeding and begin eating more aggressively again, Ed and Jessica, and that he will most likely be just fine once he’s had more time to adjust to the loss of his long-time tankmate. But just to be on the safe side, I would suggest postponing the delivery of your mated pair of Sunbursts for a week or two to make sure that everything gets back on track and that you are not dealing with a more serious problem than depression. Since you have just lost your oldest seahorse to complications from gas bubble syndrome and your middle seahorse is now off his feed and acting a little strangely, that would be a sensible precaution. If you agree, I would contact Ocean Rider over the telephone immediately with your order number and request that they change your delivery date and ship your seahorses perhaps two weeks from this Friday instead. Then follow up with an e-mail to the same effect.
No, sir — when your new seahorses arrive you DO NOT acclimate them as you would other fish or invertebrates you bring home from your LFS. That information that explains how to acclimate and care for your Sunburst properly is available online at the following link, and it would be a good idea for you to check it out before your seahorses arrive so you are familiar with the acclimation procedures and the needs of your seahorses when they are delivered:
Click here: Seahorse.com – Seahorse, Sea Life, Marine Life, Aquafarm Sales, Feeds and Accessories – Sunbursts
The acclimation instructions explaining just how to introduce your new seahorses to your aquarium are also available online, and it would be a good idea for you to review them at the following link as well
Click here: Seahorse.com – Seahorse, Sea Life, Marine Life, Aquafarm Sales, Feeds and Accessories – Acclimation Procedures http://www.seahorse.com/Aquarium_Life/Aquarium_Life/Acclimation_Procedures/
In addition, I would be happy to discuss the acclimation procedures with you in greater detail and explain step-by-step exactly how to proceed. First of all, however, let me assure you that 9 times out of 10 the seahorses arrive in great shape without being unduly stressed by their long-distance shipping. And even in those rare instances when the seahorses do experience shipping stress and elevated ammonia levels while in transit, they almost always recover fully, none the worse for wear, within a short period provided they are acclimated properly. I know it’s hard not to get a little excited and nervous about your first seahorses, but you can be very confident that everything will go smoothly if you just follow the instructions.
The following information should make everything crystal clear, as well as explaining why it is important to acclimate your new arrivals according to the instructions:
Acclimating New Arrivals
It is very important to avoid drip acclimating the seahorses after their long trip from Hawaii, and to follow the acclimation instructions closely so that the new arrivals can be transferred into the new aquarium within 20-30 minutes of opening the shipping bags.
As you know, acclimating seahorses that have been in the shipping bag for a day or two following long-distance shipping calls for a somewhat different acclimation protocol. The painstaking drip-acclimation process works very well for specimens that were obtained locally and bagged up with pure oxygen at their LFS for the short trip home because there isn’t time for significant levels of ammonia or carbon dioxide (CO2) to build up in the bags before acclimation is begun. But drip-acclimating specimens that have been en route for 24 hours or more can be disastrous and may well result in the death of the specimens while they are still in the shipping bag. Allow me explain.
Acclimating newly arrived seahorses properly after their transoceanic, cross-country journey is absolutely vital. It’s not like acclimating the new specimens you bring home after a quick trip back from your local fish store. The long distances and prolonged transit times involved make proper care of the new arrivals once they finally reach you a far more urgent matter. The reason for this is that all the while the seahorses are en route, they are excreting wastes and respiring in the dark shipping box — consuming oxygen (O2) and giving off carbon dioxide (CO2). That means two things: deadly ammonia is steadily building up in the shipping bag and the pH is steadily dropping, making the water more acidic.
This downward pH shift is actually helpful in that ammonia is less toxic at low pH and becomes much more toxic at higher pH. This is because ammonia exists in water in an equilibrium between two different forms — a nontoxic ionized form usually referred to as ammonium (NH4+) and an un-ionized form (NH3), which is highly toxic. Ammonium (NH4+) is completely harmless to fishes since the ionized ammonia molecule cannot cross the cell membrane and enter their cells. Note that only difference between harmless NH4+ and deadly NH3 is the addition of a hydrogen ion (H+), which converts toxic ammonia to nontoxic ammonium. At low pH, the extra hydrogen ions (H+) of acidic water are readily available to attach to the ammonia molecule, converting most of the ammonia to ammonium: NH3 + H+ —> NH4+. But at high pH, under alkaline conditions, exactly the opposite occurs. At high pH, the abundance of hydroxide ions (OH-) in alkaline water strips the extra hydrogen ion (H+) away from ammonium, rapidly converting most of it to deadly ammonia: OH- + NH4+ —> NH3 + H20. In other words, the higher (more alkaline) the pH, the more ammonia is present in the dangerous un-ionized form (NH3), which easily crosses cell membranes and enters the body.
This should make it easier to understand exactly what is happening in the shipping bag. As the seahorses breathe, consuming O2 and giving of CO2, the pH of the water drops and more of the ammonia (NH3) they produce is assimilated into harmless ammonium (NH4+). So the decrease in pH that occurs during long-distance shipping is actually protecting the new arrivals somewhat — until we open the shipping bag! Once the shipping bag is opened, CO2 begins offgassing from the bag water and fresh O2 begins entering the water, and as the pH begins to rise in response and return to normal, the ammonia in the water becomes increasingly poisonous. And when we begin to add alkaline water with a pH of 8.0-8.4 from the main tank to the shipping bag, we are accelerating the pH shift and converting ever more of the ammonium (NH4+) to deadly ammonia (NH3). The suddenly high concentration of ammonia in the water quickly diffuses into the seahorse’s cells, and acclimating the new arrivals becomes a race against ammonia poisoning just that quickly.
Acclimating farm-raised seahorses properly is therefore the art of achieving the proper balance between two conflicting needs: the need to get them out of the toxic shipping water as quickly as possible and the need to allow them to adjust to tank conditions as gradually as is practical. Here’s how to proceed:
1) Open the shipping box away from any bright lights. Remember that seahorses don’t have eyelids — removing them from total darkness and suddenly plunging them in bright light can be very stressful! Darken the room lights and turn off the aquarium lights before you remove the shipping bags from the box.
2) Float the shipping bag in your tank, or better yet in a clean container filled 2/3 of the way with water from the aquarium, for about 10 minutes to equalize temperatures. (Those shipping bags can be dirty and germ laden!)
3) Once the temperature has been equalized, partially open the shipping bag and check the parameters of the shipping water (temperature, salinity or specific gravity, and especially the pH). Compare those readings to the conditions in the destination tank. That will tell how you quickly you can proceed with the acclimation process. The specific gravity is not that critical. Seahorses tolerate a wide range of salinities and are very adaptable in that regard. If the water in the shipping bag and the water in the destination tank are equal in temperature, fairly close in specific gravity, and within 0.1 of each other in pH, you may introduce the seahorses to the tank right away without the need for any further acclimation. If the temp or pH are slightly off, you can acclimate the seahorses to tank conditions in one or two steps, as described below. And if the temp, pH, or specific gravity is off considerably, you will need to adjust the seahorses to tank conditions carefully in three or more steps.
4) The first of these steps is to add 1 cup of tank water to the shipping bag. Wait 10 minutes to allow the seahorses to adjust to any differences in tank water you just added.
5) Do NOT aerate the shipping bag while you are waiting. I know it seems a helpful thing to do, and your first inclination will be to add an airstone or airline to the shipping bag, but that can have disastrous consequences! Aerating the shipping water will accelerate the upward shift in pH and hasten the conversion of harmless ammonium (NH4+) to toxic ammonia (NH3). Aerating the shipping bag during acclimation will thus put the new arrivals at grave risk from ammonia poisoning! Don’t do it.
6) After 10 minutes have elapsed, remove 1 cup of water from the shipping bag and add another cup of water from the tank. Wait 10 minutes to allow the seahorses to adjust, and if they remain undistressed, repeat this procedure again. Judging from how great the initial discrepancy was in water quality parameters, this procedure can be repeated as often as necessary to adjust the seahorses to the tank conditions gradually, but try to complete the acclimation process within 30 minutes after the shipping bag was opened, if at all possible.
7) Observe the new arrivals closely for any signs of ammonia poisoning throughout the acclimation process. The symptoms to look are a loss of equilibrium, hyperexcitability, increased respiration and oxygen uptake, and increased heart rate. At extreme ammonia levels, fish may experience convulsions, coma, and death. Seahorses exposed to less extreme ammonia levels will struggle to breathe. They will be lethargic and exhibit rapid respiration. They may appear disoriented, periodically detaching from their hitching posts only to sink to the bottom. Don’t panic at the first sign of rapid breathing, but if you detect any of the more serious symptoms of ammonia toxicity, stop acclimating and get the seahorses into the destination tank immediately! Don’t hesitate! Your seahorses will tolerate an emergency transfer far better than they can withstand prolonged exposure to high levels of deadly ammonia in the shipping bag.
8) If all goes well, you can release the seahorses into the destination tank at your leisure following a 2- or 3-step acclimation process. I do not like to use an aquarium net to transfer seahorses, since their delicate fins and snouts can become entangled in the netting all too easily. I much prefer to transfer the seahorses by hand. Simply wet your hand and fingers (to avoid removing any of the seahorse’s protective slime coat) and scoop the seahorses in your hand. Allow them to curl their tail around your fingers and carefully cup their bodies in your hand to support them while you lift them out of the water. When you gently immerse your hand in the destination tank, the seahorse will release its grip and swim away as though nothing out of the ordinary has happened. Take care to get as little of the noxious water from the shipping bags as possible into the aquarium when you transfer the seahorses. Discard the impure shipping water when you are finished.
9) Leave the aquarium light off and let the seahorses settle down and adjust to their strange new surroundings at their own speed. Don’t attempt to feed them for the first day. Just give them plenty of room and allow them to settle in and investigate their new home in peace and quiet. Admire them from afar. The next morning you can turn on the aquarium light at the usual time and offer them their first meal.
Don’t let the discussion of ammonia poisoning and shipping stress above worry you, Ed and Jessica. It’s not meant to alarm you in the least, only to explain why it’s important to complete the acclimation procedure quickly (which is why drip acclimating the seahorses is counterproductive and could even be harmful) and what to do in the extremely unlikely event an emergency should arise during acclimation. In all probability, your seahorses will arrive in excellent condition and not stressed out in the least, and even when shipping stress is a factor, the seahorses typically recover quickly and are back to normal by the following day.
If you can update me on your current aquarium parameters, I will look them over and see if there’s anything that needs to be adjusted or changed in order to provide optimum conditions for your Sunbursts. It would be helpful to know your current water chemistry readings for the following:
Ammonia (NH3/NH4+) =
Nitrite (N02) =
Nitrate (N03) =
specific gravity =
water temperature =
Best wishes with all your fishes (and invertebrates), Ed and Jessica! Here’s hoping your middle seahorse is soon back to normal and eating like a horse again!
Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Tech Support